Colchester woman heads to prison for Waterford DUI crash

Stephanie Turowski, 24, a Waterford High School and Mitchell College graduate and aspiring teacher, working in a classroom at Great Neck Elementary School. Turowski was killed on Dec. 26,  2016, in a three-car crash in Waterford. (Courtesy of David Brainley)
Stephanie Turowski, 24, a Waterford High School and Mitchell College graduate and aspiring teacher, working in a classroom at Great Neck Elementary School. Turowski was killed on Dec. 26, 2016, in a three-car crash in Waterford. (Courtesy of David Brainley)

Brianne Colonna's weeping apology and the 7½-year prison sentence she began serving Thursday were too little, too late for the Turowski family of Waterford.

Twenty-four-year-old Stephanie Turowski, an aspiring teacher, was killed during a Dec. 26, 2016, shopping trip with her mother and brother Alex's girlfriend because Colonna was drunk, speeding and using her cellphone while driving. 

According to court testimony and documents, Colonna was driving north on Boston Post Road in Waterford in the area of Reynolds Lane at 1:30 p.m. Colonna, whose blood alcohol concentration of 0.25 percent was more than three times the legal limit, failed to negotiate a right turn in a construction area. Her sport utility vehicle crossed the double yellow line and struck the Mazda that Turowski was in head-on.

The driver, Olivia Turowski, a Clark Lane Middle School teacher who since has retired, was critically injured and underwent multiple surgeries. The front-seat passenger Laura Welp, a therapist from the Boston area, suffered a broken arm. Stephanie Turowski died from blunt trauma injuries to the torso, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

"To hear your child take her first breath is exhilarating," Olivia Turowski said. "To hear her take her last breath is devastating."

Colonna, 29, a licensed clinical social worker from Colchester, also was seriously injured. She arrived in court Thursday in gray sweatpants and sweatshirt, ready to be taken to prison if Judge Kevin P. McMahon denied the request of her attorney, Forest E. Green, to stay her sentence while she receives follow-up medical care. The judge denied the request and, at the end of two hours, Turowski's family and Colonna's own heartbroken supporters watched as judicial marshals handcuffed her and led her out of the courtroom.

Members of the Waterford Police Department who had worked on the case also were in the gallery.

Colonna had pleaded no contest in September to second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, two counts of second-degree assault with a motor vehicle and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Her agreement to serve a sentence of 16 years in prison, suspended after 7½ years served, followed by five years of probation, was reached after months of plea negotiations involving Green, prosecutor Sarah W. Bowman, Victim Advocate LeeAnn Vertefuille and Judge McMahon.

Colonna sat at the defense table and cried throughout her statement. She said she wished it was she who had died and that she has imposed a "life sentence" on herself. She explained her lawyer previously had advised her not to apologize to the family because of her ongoing court case.

She said the stress from her job at Griffin Hospital, where she worked with addicts, and her sister Francesca's heroin addiction, which claimed the sister's life in February 2018, had highjacked her intellectual, physical and emotional functioning.

"It's not an excuse, the stress and the way I coped with it," she said. "It's just the truth."

Colonna did not say how much she had to drink the day of the crash, though she explained she was headed to buy a lockbox after her sister had dumped out their mother's medication so that she could use the syringe for her drugs. Colonna said her sister had overdosed many times and that Colonna had revived her with Narcan. When the sister eventually suffered the fatal overdose, Colonna was holding her hand as she died at Hartford Hospital.

Colonna's mother, Lynn Orsatti, told the Turowskis she understands the agony and profound grief of losing a daughter. Michael Puscas, a Catholic church deacon, read from a folder containing 24 letters of support written by members of the community.

The Turowskis and Welp were headed toward the Ulta Beauty store that afternoon in December 2016 for a post-Christmas shopping trip. The impact of the crash lifted the back end of their Mazda off the ground and sent it backward into a white Honda Accord. The occupants of the Honda were not injured. Colonna's vehicle came to a stop on its side.

Information drawn from the Equinox's event data recorder showed Colonna was traveling at 60 mph a half-second before the wreck. Colonna never used her brakes during the incident and police reported she was on her phone via Bluetooth connection from before the crash occurred until police worked to extricate her from the car following the crash, according to the prosecutor.

The Mazda's event data recorder showed it had been going 31 mph 5 seconds prior to the crash and was down to 20 mph when the crash occurred because the driver was braking, police said.

The posted speed limit in the construction zone was 35 mph.

Olivia Turowski said it had taken Colonna almost two years to the day to apologize, though she added she understood the legal aspect.

"What sort of remorse is it when she blames her circumstances, not herself, for the accident?" Turowski said.

Laura Welp said that she was sorry for what Colonna went through with her sister, but as the victim of Colonna's crime, did not want to hear of Colonna's suffering.

Steve Turowski, wife of Olivia and father of Stephanie, said it was impossible to describe the family's losses, and that he misses talking every day to "Daddy's little girl." He said he had looked forward to walking his daughter down the aisle and other milestones. Because of his wife's injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, he said they have not been able to carry out their big plans for their retirement.

Alex Turowski recalled being picked up by a police chaplain the day of the crash and taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, where he learned his sister was dead and his mother and girlfriend injured.

"I wonder if setting three places at a table for four will ever feel normal," he said.

The judge told the Turowskis that in handing down the sentence, he was not trying to put a number on the loss of Stephanie Turowski's life or their ongoing pain. Having handled many drunken driving fatalities throughout his career, McMahon said they are the worst cases, and that everybody involved loses.

"Welcome to my world of drunk driving death," he said. "It sucks."

While on probation, Colonna is required to contribute $750 a year each to the Waterford High School Spirit of Stephanie Turowski Fund and Mitchell College Stephanie Turowski Fund. He also imposed community service, random drug and alcohol testing, restitution of any medical expenses not covered after civil proceedings in the case are involved. He said Colonna is not to drive without a license and is required to use an ignition interlock device when she does drive.

k.florin@theday.com

Brianne Colonna
Brianne Colonna

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